AFC North draft grades and my NFL draft winners and losers

May 02, 2011|By Matt Vensel

The 2011 NFL draft has come and gone, leaving us in limbo until the lockout ends and free agency begins sometime (hopefully) this summer. The Ravens pieced together another solid draft class over the weekend, but they weren’t the only ones in the AFC North who got better during the draft. Their three division rivals came away as winners as well.

The Ravens and the Steelers bolstered their rosters for title runs in 2011. Meanwhile, the rebuilding Bengals and Browns probably won’t be ready to compete with the AFC North’s two powerhouses whenever football operations resume, but they helped lay strong foundations for future seasons in this draft.

Here is how I grade the draft classes for each of the AFC North’s four teams:

Cincinnati Bengals

What I liked: Carson Palmer wants a trade and the Chad Ochocinco show needs to be canceled in Cincinnati, so the Bengals did well in finding their replacements early in the draft. With the fourth overall pick, they took Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green, a dynamic deep threat who will give the Ravens fits if his new quarterback, second-round pick Andy Dalton, ends up being the player the Bengals think he is.

What I didn’t like: The rest of the Bengals’ draft was pretty yawn-inspiring, and I’m not sure how the Bengals plan on using third-round pick Dontay Moch in the 4-3. But if Green and Dalton pan out, it won’t matter.

Top offseason priority: Finding suitors -- and getting worthwhile trade value -- for Palmer and Ochocinco.

Draft grade: A-minus

Cleveland Browns

What I liked: The Browns remained patient with their rebuilding plan and were wise to trade the sixth overall pick to the Falcons for a slew of picks spread out over three drafts. And with their first two picks this year, they added two players to their front seven, which was essential since they are switching to a 4-3 defense this season. The Browns were still able to get a couple of potential playmakers -- wide receiver Greg Little and tight end Jordan Cameron -- for quarterback Colt McCoy on the second day of the draft.

What I didn’t like: After trading back with the Falcons, the Browns traded up six spots to take defensive tackle Phil Taylor, which was unnecessary; no one was taking Taylor before pick No. 27. I was also surprised they passed on defensive end Da’Quan Bowers early in Round 2, but if they think his knee will explode, I can’t fault them for it. We’ll see who has a better career: Bowers or Jabaal Sheard, the pass rusher they took instead.

Top offseason priority: Improve the linebacker corps and the offensive line through free agency.

Draft grade: A (that’s including the future picks they netted from the Falcons)

Baltimore Ravens

What I liked: The Ravens sat tight in the first two rounds and got great value while filling two immediate needs. Cornerback Jimmy Smith can be a steal if he has indeed matured, and wide receiver Torrey Smith is the burner this offense needed. And apparently quarterback Joe Flacco hand-picked wide receiver Tandon Doss, a fourth-round possession receiver; now we’ll see how good Flacco is as a talent evaluator.

What I didn’t like: I know you usually can’t get everything you want, but the Ravens did little to improve their pass rush, only drafting developmental defensive end Pernell McPhee in the fifth round. Either the Ravens think it’s something they can fix through free agency or they are counting on Sergio Kindle to contribute.

Top offseason priority: Finding a pass-rushing linebacker in free agency to help out Terrell Suggs while making sure they re-sign key free agents such as Josh Wilson, Chris Carr, Le’Ron McClain and Marshal Yanda.

Draft grade: B-plus

Pittsburgh Steelers

What I liked: The Steelers stood pad and addressed their three biggest needs by drafting defensive end Cameron Heyward, offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert and a pair of corners in Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen.

What I didn’t like: The Steelers needed to do more for their offensive line, and like the Ravens with Ed Reed, the Steelers need to find a young-fill in for Troy Polamalu, whose injury issues will continue as he ages.

Top offseason priority: Bringing back cornerback Ike Taylor and sorting out that offensive line.

Draft grade: B

Three other draft classes I liked

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Last year they spent their first two picks on defensive tackles. This year they took ends in Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers. If Bowers stays healthy, he could be the steal of the draft.

Detroit Lions: Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh. Enough said.

Houston Texans: They added defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Brooks Reed to their new 3-4 defense and got good value while filling a need with the selection of cornerback Brandon Harris late in the second round.

Three draft classes I didn’t like

Buffalo Bills: They were smart to pick Marcell Dareus at No. 3, but quarterback and offensive tackle were their biggest needs and they didn’t address either one, which is why they’ll be picking early again next year.

Seattle Seahawks: Starting with Alabama offensive lineman James Carpenter, a second-round prospect selected in the first, the Seahawks reached big-time with their first four picks.

Minnesota Vikings: Christian Ponder at pick No. 12? Really?

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